GP vacancies ‘not just down to Brexit’

The UK is set to leave the EU after the referendum in June 2016 saw a victory for the Leave campaign
The UK is set to leave the EU after the referendum in June 2016 saw a victory for the Leave campaign

Staff vacancies at doctors’ surgeries in East Sussex are not just down to Brexit, according to health chiefs.

Across practices in Hastings and Rother there are 12 GP vacancies, compared to 11 in the Eastbourne, Hailsham, and Seaford areas.

Although figures were not available for High Weald Lewes Havens part of the county the problem was described as a ‘system-wide issue’ at an East Sussex Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee meeting last month (Thursday March 29).

Amanda Philpott, chief officer at Eastbourne, Hailsham, and Seaford and the Hastings & Rother clinical commissioning groups, described how the biggest risk over the next five years was the number of GPs due to retire.

She described how in Hastings half of GPs were in the ‘later stages of their careers’.

She added, “Some of the challenges have been exacerbated by the implications of Brexit and that has affected our ability to recruit people at the moment and hopefully that will even out as future options become closer.”

She continued, “A significant part of our workforce that comes from Europe are making decisions either not to come or to leave early.”

However Ms Philpott went on to describe how the GP practices had an ‘inherently older workforce’ and newer entrants into health profession wanted more varied job roles.

She explained, “I don’t want to focus on Brexit as the only issue.”

Peter Birtles, primary care clinical lead for the High Weald Lewes Havens CCG, added, “The whole system is interconnected and I think care homes and nursing home staff are going to take quite a battering.

“That’s going to have a knock on effect on GPs’ sustainability and willingness of young GPs to go into general practice rather than remaining in locum which they feel safer in at the moment.”

Sarah Osborne (LDem, Ouse Valley West and Downs) highlighted a piece of work the Local Government Association was carrying out on the impact of Brexit on the workforce in the health sector generally.

She said, “The figures I have seen so far it’s really quite scary what a big increase across the entire country what a big impact this has had.”

Ms Philpott described how the two CCGs in the East Sussex Better Together area had invested millions of pounds into GP services, which was over and above the scale of national investment.

Actions to increase staffing levels included bursaries for career development, international recruitment, hiring nurse apprentices and establishing a locum medical bank.

The CCGs are also encouraging practices to collaborate with each other in groups and clusters to ensure GP services are sustainable.

Initiatives are also looking to improve access and support by using digital technologies, ranging from messaging patients to conducting consultations via Skype.

Meanwhile to assist with easing pressures practices in the Havens are considering options to work closer together in both Peacehaven and Newhaven, while three practices in Lewes, River Lodge, School Hill and St Andrews, are planning to build a new Lewes Health Hub by 2020 to house them all to enable new and innovate ways of working.

New ways of working in the High Weald Lewes Havens CCG area to respond to the increased demand on primary care include reducing doctors’ workload and freeing up their time to concentrate on clinical work, a scheme incentivising GPs to carry out weekly proactive rounds and develop detailed care plans in care homes, and a community geriatrician service where GPs can refer complex patients directly to a consultant working in the community for face to face consultations either at home or in a surgery.